NASHVILLE, Tennessee – The postseason can be exhausting, and playing four games in seven nights going from an emotional Game 7 to wrap up one series to the Western Conference finals is starting to take a toll on the Anaheim Ducks.
Playing the Nashville Predators inside the NHL’s toughest arena in nearly 20 years sure isn’t helping.
Coach Randy Carlyle said Wednesday that his Ducks just ran out of gas after taking a 1-0 lead Tuesday night in Game 3. The Predators scored twice in the third, not counting two goals waved off for goalie interference, and pulled out a 2-1 victory for a 2-1 lead in the Western finals.
Carlyle said he thought his Ducks were flat with emotion and credited the Predators for taking that out of them. A schedule that had Anaheim starting this series less than 48 hours after ousting Edmonton in a deciding seventh game doesn’t help either.
“You look back and you say, ‘Hey, we played Game 7 a week ago today,’” Carlyle said Wednesday. “You know, so that’s four games in six nights or seven nights. And then you get more of an understanding of the intensity and the drainage that does take place on your people.”
Then there’s the challenge of playing in Nashville where the Predators just notched their 10th straight playoff win dating to last season.
It’s the NHL’s longest streak since Detroit won 10 straight in 1997-98 after Colorado went 11-0 in 1996-97. The Predators are just the 10th team to win at least 10 straight at home in the playoffs since the NHL expanded in 1967-68. It’s the 15th time an NHL team has ran off 10 consecutive playoff wins at home.
Nashville started this last year against these very same Ducks. Anaheim won the first two games in Nashville by a margin of 7-1 before the Predators won Game 6 in taking the first-round series in seven.
They haven’t lost since, winning the first six at home this postseason despite being the last team in the West into the playoffs as the second wild-card.
Game 4 is Thursday night.
Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg said he doesn’t know if it matters right now if the Predators are at home or not because of how aggressively they’re playing. Being at home only means the crowd, which reached 17,338 with standing room, pumps Nashville up even more.
Add to that Nashville’s defensemen pinching to keep pucks inside the offensive zone, preventing the Ducks from breaking into their own zone to shoot at Predators goalie Pekka Rinne.
“A lot of times it can be frustrating because maybe you don’t get as much room as you’re used to out there, especially as a winger,” Silfverberg said. “So just a super aggressive team and especially with the crowd in their back, it’s tough sometimes, tough to generate any offense.
And the Nashville fans just keep getting louder with each game , drawing new respect and attention for the home atmosphere from across the NHL.
“I’ve played in loud rinks, but this one blows that away,” Nashville forward James Neal said. “And it’s just, the fans that are unbelievable. It’s a special place to play, and it continues to get louder and louder as we go.”
Nashville also has outshot the Ducks in each game and been downright smothering at times. The Predators had a 21-1 edge in shots for one stretch Tuesday night before finishing with a 40-20 margin. Credit the pressure Nashville is putting on the Ducks, and defenseman Cam Fowler said it’s unique how the Predators sustain that for a whole game.
“It’s pretty rare to see a team that expects their players to do that for a full 60 minutes, and that’s what they do,” Fowler said. “But they obviously feel like they have the players and the speed to do that. And it’s effective and it’s hard to play against. So they do a really good job at that.”
The Predators answered Anaheim’s physical style Tuesday night, outhitting the Ducks 32-24 — led by Austin Watson with a game-high seven. It’s all part of the style coach Peter Laviolette has instilled.
“We want to dictate the pace of the game, and we want to attack you in all three zones as a five-man unit and be tough to play against,” Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban said.
With Nashville taking the series opener, the Predators just need to keep it up to extend this franchise’s already historic run.
“Now we’re looking forward to the intensity ramping up for the second game at home,” Subban said.
TERESA M. WALKER